Russia faces the prospect of its military units in Ukraine becoming no longer combat-effective through huge losses in personnel and equipment, western officials have said.
Moscow’s generals have been accused of “selling off the family silver” by cobbling together battalions made up of instructors, trainers and cooks to create formations for the front line.
It also appears that the Ukrainian army is conducting a significant counter-offensive in the south to within 10 kilometres of Kherson, the only city that has fallen to the Russians.
After withdrawing from around the capital Kyiv in early April, the Russians launched a new offensive in eastern Ukraine, using a huge amount of resources to seize the Donbas area.
“Russia has achieved creeping tactical success at very considerable cost,” western officials told a media briefing. “Despite a remarkable expenditure of ammunition, its forces have hardly moved since the start of June.”
With an estimated 20,000 deaths since the February 24 invasion and many more seriously injured, they were struggling to regenerate their once-vaunted Battalion Tactical Groups.
Brigades were using their third battalions, made up of trainers and others, to generate forces after the first and second battalions had suffered heavy losses.
“In terms of force generation, Russia is effectively selling off the family silver,” a senior western official said.
“This deployment of reserves links to a key theme of assessment, where it comes to a point when Russia will cease to be able to generate effective offensive combat power due to a lack of ammunition and similarly a shortage of combat units. We can't yet speculate when exactly that point might be reached.”
While Ukraine’s military was also suffering heavy losses, estimated between 60 and 100 dead a day, there would come a time when “the tiny advances Russia is making become unsustainable in light of the costs,” he added. This would require a “significant pause” to regenerate their troops.
However, with Russians largely closed off to media other than state generated news, President Vladimir Putin remained “very bullish about his willingness to suffer the cost of the invasion”.
But training and supply of western weapons had allowed the Ukrainians to mount counter offensives to potentially retake lost ground. It now appears that, since the weekend, an operation has been developing around the city of Kherson, which fell six days into the war.
“Ukrainian armed forces have likely gained momentum in their counter attack near Kherson and are now probably between 10 and 20 kilometres from Kherson…which is the most relatively intact city that Russia occupies.”
However, the official gave a warning that the Ukrainians would face the same challenges of fighting in urban areas suffering heavy casualties against dug-in positions.
He also disclosed that Russian combat medical services were in such a dire state that many soldiers were dying unnecessarily.
“The medical capability that Russian forces have is a contributing factor to a number of deaths,” he said. “Army formations aren’t deploying with medical teams capable in terms of anaesthetists, but also with only half the number of surgeons required. It's been described to me as the kind of casualty care and medivac system that you would have expected to see in World War Two.”
Both sides in the conflict were now “acutely aware” that they were in a race to resupply and reconstitute their forces. With the fighting currently at a stalemate, “the outcome of the conflict will be determined by those actions,” he said.
“This will be a long war,” the official concluded.